Nutrition is vital for post-workout recovery and optimising performance. That is because your energy depletes after an intense workout. In addition, the muscle tissues experience damage, and the fluids and electrolytes go out with sweat. Therefore, what you eat after exercise is crucial in helping your body refuel, rehydrate, recover and remodel. The best foods to eat after your workout can define the way you perform, build endurance and finally give you the body of your dreams.
Coordinating workouts with the proper nutrition at the right time can improve your efficiency and fitness results. For example, you should consume a carbohydrate-rich snack within the first 30 minutes. It replenishes the carbohydrates and glycogen that depleted during your workout. Furthermore, you can eat protein-rich foods for muscle tissue repair and muscle building. Failing to do so can put your muscles at risk of further damage and contribute to overuse injuries. It can also make you weaker in the long run and cause fatigue.
You don’t want to let the efforts you’ve put in your workout go down the drain! So fuel your body with enough energy with the proper post-workout nutrition.
The Role of Post Workout Nutrition
Post-workout nutrition mainly requires carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes, each crucial in recovery.
The primary reason to consume carbohydrates post-workout is to replenish the muscle glycogen you burned during your workout. Your primary fuel source is muscle glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose. The release of the stress hormone cortisol happens during activities. It has energising effects on the liver and muscle glycogen. In addition, the breakdown of the glycogen chain into glucose generates ATP, the principal molecule for storing and transporting chemical energy. As a result, your body severely depletes glycogen and glucose after a hard workout. Electrolytes, carbohydrates may not be needed for low intensity workouts or when adequate pre workout carbohydrate rich fuel has been consumed
Research suggests that consuming carbohydrates immediately after exercise increases plasma glucose and insulin concentration. In addition, it enhances the synthesis rate of muscle glycogen, thus making it a central component of the recovery process. For this purpose, you can opt for high-glycemic foods in recommended amounts. The Glycemic index measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar and hence insulin levels. High GI foods provide a quick energy source as their digestion and absorption rate are faster. As a result, they can sustain short bursts of high-intensity exercise but do not provide long-lasting energy.
Workout creates small tears to the existing muscles. Consuming protein post-workout gives your muscles the necessary amino acids to repair these damages efficiently. The hormone cortisol released during workout plays a role in protein catabolism in muscle tissues. It breaks them down into amino acids and glucose. Cortisol also stimulates gluconeogenesis, which produces glucose from non-carbohydrate sources for ATP. It has the glucose from the amino acids in the liver, resulting in an overall net loss of muscle protein.
The key to muscle recovery is to consume protein after your workout. Also, it is essential to add high-quality proteins. They are highly digestible and provide ample essential amino acids for effective building and repairing muscles.
In addition, evidence of the combined effect on net muscle protein synthesis of amino acids and carbohydrates taken together after resistance exercise is roughly the same as the summation of both given individually. Also, amino acids and carbohydrates taken before the workout does not diminish the metabolic response to a second dose taken an hour later.
Electrolytes help your body retain fluid during heavy exercise. In addition, they maintain your energy level, avoiding fatigue due to dehydration. Since prolonged and intense workouts can lead to a progressive loss of water and electrolyte from the body, along with sweat replenishing lost moisture and electrolytes is a priority post-workout. However, mild exercise sessions don’t require the replenishment of electrolytes immediately afterwards. This is because the rate of sweating depends on the duration and intensity of the workout. In most cases, drinking an adequate amount of water is enough.
After a long, intense workout, a great way to replete electrolytes is to have a meal rich in magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium. They help your body recover and avoid cramping.
Foods to Eat for Post Workout Nutrition
The foundation to proper post-workout nutrition is a mindful combination of protein, carbohydrates and fluids. The ratio of carbohydrates to proteins depends on the type and the duration of the workout you completed.
Simple carbohydrates have a higher glycemic index than complex carbohydrates. But on the other hand, complex carbohydrates provide sustained energy over a long time. Therefore, simple carbs would be your preferred source of energy post-workout for immediate recharge.
Eat bananas after a workout as it allows your body to release the hormone insulin, which increases blood sugar levels. Research suggests that it improves insulin sensitivity in your muscles, making it easier for them to replenish glycogen stores. In addition, the compounds present in bananas prevent excess inflammation and reduce muscle cramps. Finally, it makes them the perfect grab-n-go post-workout food.
Milk contains lactose, which is a type of simple carbohydrate. Lactose breaks down into glucose and galactose in the body. These sugars help to replenish the lost carbohydrate storage. Milk products are also rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin D. They also provide electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, which help with rehydration.
They are the perfect post-workout snacks. You can grab a handful of dried fruit, like raisins, dates and dried cranberries, before you consume a high protein meal. Consuming dried fruits provides instant energy and boost your fibre intake. In addition, they supply your body with rich amounts of antioxidants.
Pasta is excellent post-intense workout food and is a good source of energy and fibre. It is a high glycemic food that causes an insulin spike in your body. It allows your body to quickly refill your carbohydrate stores during the first 30 minutes post-workout.
The best whole food options have proteins for recovery. After exercise, they are complete proteins that supply all essential amino acids at once. They also continue to support recovery over extended periods.
Eggs provide all of the nine essential amino acids needed for maintaining, building and repairing muscle. In addition, they are rich in protein and a great source of various nutrients such as vitamins A, D, B12, iron, folate, and zinc.
Paneer is rich in protein known as casein, and it prevents muscles from breaking down. A research study suggests that paneer in post-workout meals increases muscle protein synthesis significantly. It is also rich in vitamin D, selenium, potassium and calcium. Since it is a rich source of calcium, it helps strengthen bones, making it an ideal post-workout meal.
Quinoa is a rich source of plant-based protein. It is a powerhouse of protein containing all the nine essential amino acids and is helpful for anyone who wants to build their muscles healthily and naturally. It is a perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates you can consume after an intense workout session.
A study found that consumption of whole eggs after a workout promotes stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.
Soybean is a whole protein; therefore, it is the first choice of many vegetarian fitness enthusiasts. Consuming soybeans and their byproducts can lead to muscle gain. When you eat soy, your body digests it to produce the essential amino acids. Then, it transports to the muscle via blood, creating more proteins and providing energy during protein synthesis.
Chicken and Fish
Fish and chicken provide lean protein containing all essential amino acids that promote muscle repair and good muscle health. Moreover, consuming lean protein can help you develop stronger muscles and also help you maintain lean muscle mass.
Yoghurt is packed with protein and contains a good amount of calcium essential for supporting healthy bones. It also contains vital nutrients such as B vitamins, zinc, and potassium.
Chickpeas are a great source of protein, especially for people who don’t eat meat or animal products. In addition, they have almost the perfect 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. Moreover, they are rich in fibre and polyunsaturated fats.
The best way to replace electrolytes lost during workouts is to go for a natural drink instead of a sports drink. Although drinking water is enough, it alone does not replace the nutrients lost with sweat during a workout.
Coconut water is high in electrolytes, potassium and magnesium, which are necessary to avoid fatigue and nausea after a workout. In addition, it contains more electrolytes per serving than sports drinks. A cross over study concluded that coconut water caused less nausea and no stomach upset than a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage. Coconut water also offers easily digested carbohydrates, providing a quick energy boost after a workout.
Having a juicy watermelon after your workout will help provide energy. It contains potassium; a vital electrolyte lost when one sweats it out. As a result, it aids in hydration and reduces muscle soreness. Watermelon is also a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins, including B1 and B6.
Green vegetables such as kale, celery, broccoli and spinach are rich in electrolytes. Adding more greens to your post-workout smoothie will increase the amount of magnesium, calcium and potassium on your plate. They also contain healthy carbohydrates that help you absorb those minerals better.
Lemon is rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. Adding the juice of a full or half of a lemon to your water will help you stay hydrated and get an adequate dose of minerals and salts. Since it is also high in vitamin C, it enhances immune function and increases iron absorption. It also can detoxify the liver.
Fun Post Workout Snack Ideas
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Yoghurt with fruits
- Peanut butter and banana toast
- Fruit or vegetable smoothie
- Avocado and egg toast
Foods to Avoid Post Workout
Although getting a quick post-workout meal is necessary, choosing the wrong recovery foods can negate all the hard work you just put in.
While energy bars sound like the best choice after a workout, they do more harm than good. Most of the bars available in the market are high in refined sugar. In addition, the additives like sorbitol and xylitol in the bars can cause gastric distress and bloat.
The advertisement of sports drinks showcases them as the perfect post-workout drink for their electrolytes. But the high sugar content in sports drinks causes unnecessary blood sugar spikes in your body. Therefore, it is always better to go for a natural source of electrolytes, such as coconut water.
The fats in fried foods slow down digestion and leave you less energetic than active. Fried foods have little to no benefits and contain high amounts of trans fat. It delays the delivery of the nutrients into the muscles.
Ready-made Smoothie Mixes
The premixes have plenty of sugar, which stops the fat burning process. Even though they are convenient and save time, making your smoothies from scratch is far more advantageous for your recovery.
Following are some precautionary measures that you should keep in mind regarding post-workout nutrition:
- The type and source of carbohydrates you consume after your workout are essential. You can eat the bad carbohydrates and still get the required calories. However, it will not benefit your recovery process. Avoid eating refined carbohydrates such as white bread. They will cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels which crashes shortly after, leading you to crave more sugar.
- Avoid consuming heavy protein right after your workout, as your body will use it as energy instead of repairing and building muscles.
- The enzymes that function in glycogen replenishment and muscle resynthesis are most active right after exercise. Therefore, the first 30 to 45 minutes after a workout is the optimal window for post-workout nutrition.
- Never skip rehydration. Drinking water is of the utmost importance after your workout. However, suppose you worked out for an extended period or in high heat. In that case, you should consume electrolytes from natural sources to replenish the lost nutrients.
- The specific recommendations on quantities of food depend on the type and duration of your workout and your personal goals. However, a rule of thumb is to consume carbohydrates and proteins in a 3:1 ratio.
Focusing on post-workout nutrition is pivotal for recovery and endurance. It would be a waste to follow a workout session and ignore the role of food. Having a suitable diet with the proper nutrients from the right source helps a person regain energy and improve performance.
It is best to include a combination of protein and carbohydrates in your post-workout meals. You may consult a nutritionist for expert guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is protein or carbs better after a workout?
A. You need protein after a workout to effectively repair the tears in your muscles caused during the exercise and rebuild stronger ones. At the same time, you need carbs to replenish the lost muscle glycogen and provide you with energy. Therefore, eating a combination of protein and carbohydrates is best after a workout.
Q. Can I eat immediately after a workout?
A. Yes. Eating immediately after a workout can be beneficial to you as it will help you recover and prevent fatigue. In addition, you may eat within 30 minutes of your exercise to rebuild muscles and refill glycogen after being used up during the session.
Q. What is the best time for exercise?
A. You can exercise any time of the day, depending on your schedule. However, it is crucial to choose a time that will help you stay consistent for a long time. Hence, the best time for exercise is when you can do it.
Q. Can I do push-ups empty stomach?
A. It is not recommended to do push-ups empty stomach as your body will use muscle protein as fuel leading to muscle loss. Pre-workout snacks improve performance and allow you to work out for a longer time. Therefore, it is always better to eat something before working out.
Q. How long should I wait to eat after a workout?
A. Workout leads to a faster heart rate and heavy breathing, which causes your body to heat up. Therefore, you can wait till your body cools down and your breathing comes back to normal to eat after your workout. However, you should eat within 30 minutes after a workout.
Q. What happens if I don’t eat after a workout?
A. It is okay if you don’t eat after a workout once. However, making it, a habit can cause overuse injuries and damage your muscles. It can also make you weaker over time and cause fatigue. So instead, go for easy to make healthy snacks to munch on after your workout.
Q. Will I gain weight if I eat after a workout?
A. No. You will not gain weight after a workout if you eat within the correct amount of calories. After training, consuming high caloric and fatty foods can reduce weight gain and make you feel inactive.
Q. Will I gain weight if I skip a day of exercise?
A. Skipping a day of exercise leads to an insignificant amount of weight gain, which is not a matter of worry. However, it becomes a problem if you skip workouts continuously for many days. It can derail you from your fitness routine and undo your efforts.